He moaned about work, ‘bullies’ and his head of lab online. Then police say he shot dead a UNC faculty member

Tailei Qi pictured in mugshot  (Orange County Jail)
Tailei Qi pictured in mugshot (Orange County Jail)

Tailei Qi shared several cryptic posts online after joining the University of North Carolina in 2022.

The well-educated graduate student – who previously studied at both Wuhan University and Louisiana State University – complained about bullies, aired his grievances with some “girls and tattletales” and grumbled that his head of lab should have more experience to deal with his issues.

“Bully in america seems to be a problem. It often comes with people not stopping them at the first time,” he wrote in one post in August 2022.

But – despite the complaints – the messages could not prepare anyone for the horror of what happened next.

On the afternoon of Monday 28 August 2023 – just days into the new term of the second year of his PhD studies – Mr Qi allegedly entered the science lab at the UNC’s Chapel Hill campus armed with a firearm.

Inside the lab where he carried out his studies, he shot and killed a faculty member, police said.

The campus was plunged into lockdown before Mr Qi was arrested at a home just 10 minutes from the lab around three hours later.

The motive for the attack remains unknown at this time and the victim’s identity has not been publicly released.

“To actually have the suspect in custody gives us an opportunity to figure out the why and even the how, and also helps us to uncover a motive and really just why this happened today. Why today, why at all?” UNC Police Chief Brian James said in a press conference on Monday.

“And we want to learn from this incident and we will certainly work to do our best to ensure that this never happens again on the UNC campus.”

The suspect

The suspect was identified on Tuesday as Tailei Qi, a graduate student who joined the Yan Lab of the college in 2022.

Based on his online bio at the UNC, he studied under Dr Zijie Yan – the leader of the physical chemistry group the Yan Research Group and head of the Department of Applied Physical Sciences.

Before joining UNC, Mr Qi previously studied material science at Louisiana State University and physics at Wuhan University.

Tailei Qi is a graduate student who joined the Yan Lab of the college in 2022 (Orange County Jail)
Tailei Qi is a graduate student who joined the Yan Lab of the college in 2022 (Orange County Jail)

A Twitter account believed to belong to Mr Qi reveals that he had railed against his work and his head of lab as well as what he described as “bullies” in the US before allegedly carrying out the shooting.

In a post on 1 August 2022, he wrote: “Bully in america seems to be a problem. It often comes with people not stopping them at the first time.

“Explanation is not a solution but makes them feel others will plead them every time they raise a problem, making them voyeur to find an excuse day and night.”

Two weeks later on 18 August 2022, he tweeted about his “PI” – referring to his unnamed head of lab – handling “these girls and tattletales”.

“Just have a talk with my PI and get his promise. He should have more experience to handle with these girls and tattletales,” he wrote.

“Then, we can just get ourselves out of these stupid topic. Let’s just focus our attention on nature.I won’t change anything if not necessary.”

Two months later in October, he referred to his PI again and an unidentified “group of people”.

“Both the group of people to say I am lazy and that to prove me working hard instead of telling me that are trying to consume my privacy. I judge their motivation is only to tell my PI then control me by taletelling,” he tweeted.

“But it’s weird when I talked about it with my PI, he said no people spoke to him about that. so it’s nothing but some voyeurism for these people?”

Tailei Qi’s social media posts revealed (UNC)
Tailei Qi’s social media posts revealed (UNC)

In other posts, Mr Qi addressed a mystery woman who he vowed to “just let her go” and his exhaustion with his workload.

“I used to walk 80+ hours per week and I feel relaxing and energetic. Now I only work 60+ hours per week and I feel tired,” he wrote in one.

In a post in July 2022 – before he is believed to have started at UNC that fall – he posted a cryptic message calling his treatment by an unnamed boss “disgusting”.

“Just feel my privacy was insulted. When I work, I will think I was showing the boss I am working instead of interests, devaluing the meaning of my work,” he wrote.

“That’s so disgusting. Self-respect block me from working. Then it takes pains to convince myself what I do is just because I like.”

In another post that same month, he wrote that “only work with no play makes Jim a dull boy”.

Tailei Qi posted online about grievances with bullies, his PI and girls (X/Tailei Qi)
Tailei Qi posted online about grievances with bullies, his PI and girls (X/Tailei Qi)

The Twitter account has the same name and the same image as both Mr Qi’s bio and the person of interest sent out by police during the brief manhunt.

It describes him as “Graduate student @UNC, engaged in light-matter interaction and related materials”.

In one post in early August – just weeks before the shooting – he issued an appeal to meet people at the college.

“I would like to make some new friends. I am a second-year PhD student, interested in nanoparticle synthesis, optical trapping, self-assembly, spectra analysis, and ML,” he said. “a bit stupid in daily trifles, very enthusiastic talking about research. Reach me if inerest.”

The shooting

The shooting unfolded at around 1pm local time on Monday when UNC Police responded to a 911 call reporting gunfire at the science lab in the heart of the campus.

Law enforcement arrived on the scene around two minutes after the call came in and found a faculty member shot dead inside the science lab building.

The campus was plunged into lockdown, with officials warning that “an armed and dangerous person” was at large.

The wrong person was briefly arrested after the unsuspecting individual missed the shelter-in-place alerts.

Soon after, the UNC Police released an image of Mr Qi, calling him a person of interest and warning the public that “if you see this person, keep your distance, put your safety first and call 911”.

Law enforcement respond to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus (AP)
Law enforcement respond to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus (AP)

Chilling footage shows terrified students and staff members barricaded inside classrooms and offices for fear that an active shooter was at large.

Around three hours on from the shooting, police confirmed that a suspect had been arrested near a residential area 10 minutes away from campus.

The gun is yet to be recovered, police said.

The lockdown was eventually lifted at around 4.15pm.

The victim’s identity is yet to be released, pending next of kin being notified.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M Guskiewicz said in a statement that a hotline and other mental health resources were on offer for staff and students affected by the shooting.

“The students are certainly traumatised,” he said.

“But I want to commend those who were inside the building ensuring everyone’s safety.”

Classes have been canceled through Tuesday following the deadly shooting.

“Due to today’s incident on campus, UNC-Chapel Hill will operate at a Condition 2 on Tuesday, Aug. 29. This means that classes are canceled, and non-mandatory operations are suspended,” the UNC said in an update.

The shooting came just days into the start of the new term.

Harrowingly, the horror was a somewhat familiar sight for the UNC community coming four years after a mass shooting at the Charlotte campus.

Back on 30 April 2019 – on the last day of the spring semester classes – two people were killed and four injured in a mass shooting inside a classroom in the Woodford A. Kennedy Building.

The gunman – identified as former UNCC student Trystan Andrew Terrell – was arrested soon after.

In September 2019, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced life without the possibility of parole.